Archive for the ‘Viewpoint’ Category

Baggage Handling

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

“Football supporters in general have to understand that if they want professional football in their town, they have to accept it has to be done on a commercial basis.” John Batchelor, former owner of York City, 2008

It is almost 20 years since Wimbledon FC managed the unthinkable and beat Liverpool to the 1988 FA Cup. This was, it is worth noting, during a time when the Reds would hoover up trophies like a present day Premier League footballer would deal with a cistern full of narcotic stimulants. The cup final win was a pretty neat microcosm of their whirlwind rise from Southern League to Division One in nine seasons. They were elected to the League in favour of Workington - such windy northern outposts were sliding out of fashion with the Football League club chairman of the day (see also Southport and our good selves) - and by 1986 were playing in the top flight. They were perhaps best known for their footballing style, euphemistically referred to as either ‘uncompromising’, ‘direct’ or ‘route one’. This was not a club known for its swift passing and flowing play. Vinny Jones played for them, which says it all.

Their later years were dogged by the various responses to their financial difficulties - they had the lowest crowds in the top division and had to rent Crystal Palace’s ground after Plough Lane was deemed unfit - most of which seemed to involve getting the hell out of South London. Moves to Cardiff, Belfast and Dublin were mooted before Peter Winkelman stepped in and facilitated a move to the footballing hotbed that is Milton Keynes. The subsequent split has been well documented elsewhere, but last year came a significant gesture from the new Dons to the old. In 2007, MK Dons handed back a number of historical artefacts (including a replica of the FA Cup) not to AFC Wimbledon, who are themselves still exiled from their natural home, but to Merton Borough Council. In doing so, they relinquished themselves of all claims to Wimbledon FC’s records and history.

On the surface, this seems like The Right Thing To Do, a belated recognition that the true legacy of the Crazy Gang lies anywhere but the horrifically named Stadium MK. But there is a subtext to all this. Now that MK have scrabbled together a fanbase - they have had to drop to the fourth division to make themselves into a winning team, but their crowds are creeping towards 9,000, 46% up from last season - it’s a very easy thing for them to do. To some extent MK Dons are saying ‘We’re on our own two feet now, we don’t need these trophies and this history. While we’re at it, we don’t care much for this other baggage that goes with it. All this rubbish about climbing the ladder and paying our dues - sod that!’ Winkelman has got what he wanted, which was a Football League club in an area as yet untapped by the football industry. He’s got this by eschewing the traditional route of rising the pyramid, developing a professional squad and all the heartbreak that goes with ground grading committees and last minute play-off defeats. Milton Keynes has had teams bearing the new town’s name; the last of which, Milton Keynes City, folded - funnily enough! - at the same time Wimbledon/MK Dons relocated to the city. Winkelman would have more credibility if he at least tried to bring success to an existing team from the area.

When asked in the build-up to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final, at the end of March 2008, what significance the 20 year anniversary of the Wimbledon FA Cup win had for the MK Dons, Winkelman answered along the lines of ‘it’s important only as far as any club can be inspired by the Wimbledon story’, shying away from the fact that he has bypassed a lot of what the original Dons went through to get his new club on the League ladder.

It is this attitude which informs people like John Batchelor - last seen swanning aroung York in his sports car, changing his club’s name to York City Soccer Club because this made the club more “marketable” - whose latest scheme (calling it harebrained would be to insult our long-eared friends) involves transforming struggling Mansfield Town into Harchester United, the fictional side who feature in Sky One’s Dream Team football drama. I’m not that well researched to be able to tell you anything about the latter outfit, but it’s a fair assumption that what viewers like about Dream Team is the escapism that it offers, perhaps to distract from the tribulations of their own team’s day-to-day. If Harchester become a reality, are primetime audiences going to find the same kicks from derbies against Chesterfield (or, more likely, Alfreton)? In any case, at least Winkelman has finally learned that creating a winning team is the only way to build a fanbase… sorry, make a club more marketable. Fancy gimmicks, name changes and TV tie-ins are signs of desperation from a man clearly committed to being a football big shot, but one who doesn’t know one end of a football from the other.


2 Heads Aren’t Always Better Than 1… Or Are They?

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

By Andrew Steel

It has often been an unwritten, and frequently recited, rule in football that joint managers never have, and never will, work.

There have been examples of joint managers, over the past decade or so, that either didn’t last or didn’t work.

Probably the most famous case of all being the joint stewardship of Liverpool, by Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier. This particular partnership lasted only four months of the 1998/99.

Critics of a joint management regime frequently point towards this example as an argument against having joint managers and, to be fair, they have a point. That season Liverpool failed to qualify for a European competition.

To further back up this point of view there hasn’t been a semi-successful spell for a club under joint management since Alan Curbishley and Steve Gritt, laying the foundations for Alan Curbishley’s successful sole reign, at Charlton in the early 90’s.

Attempts at join management since then have either been low-key, short affairs or disastrous… until now.

Step forward Darren Sheridan and Dave Bayliss of Blue Square North team Barrow A.F.C.

Former Barnsley midfielder Sheridan and, ex-Rochdale defender, Bayliss took joint charge of Barrow, along with club captain Paul Jones, as caretakers in November 2007.

Their first three games in charge saw the team beat, local rivals, Workington in the Setanta Shield, hammer high flying A.F.C. Telford 4-0 and narrowly miss out on producing one of the biggest FA Cup shocks of the season, narrowly losing 3-2 to a goal in the last minute of extra time, at Bournemouth, in a 1st round replay.

In December Sheridan and Bayliss were appointed on a permanent basis, on a verbal agreement. Since then the Bluebirds have moved from a relegation battle to, recently, having an outside chance of making the play-offs, playing attractive, attacking football in the process. Something that was regularly lacking under the previous, sole, manager Phil Wilson. In fact Barrow recently went on a run of scoring four goals in four consecutive home games.

The duo are now about to be offered a formal contract, three months ahead of schedule.

In an interview with the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow director Tony Keen said: “We originally agreed to review the situation at the end of the season but the directors are more than happy the way things have been going under Darren and Dave.

“It has been play-offs and promotion form and in a way they have written their own future.”

The success of these two joint-managers may be a one off, but maybe, just maybe, it is an example that, if done correctly, a joint management team can work.

FCUM - how to lose friends and alienate people

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

FC United fans have been asked by the club to boycott the upcoming Curzon Ashton away game because the game will be shown live on online TV, and thus the kick-off time has been switched to early afternoon.

The reason? It’s one of the club’s founding principles that games should not be switched for TV.

The effect? Curzon lose the gate money for their biggest game of the season.

If the club feel that strongly, they should not send a team and give the other team the three points - they won’t be doing that though, as the Tameside team are top of the league (FC are fifth) and looking to pull away from the chasing UniBond pack.

Not every team in this league can count on thousands of supporters and money from this TV deal is likely to be a major source of income for a lot of clubs. If FCUM start to thow their weight around in the lower divisions, they’ll soon lose any goodwill they have built up since their inception. And how did the club’s “founding fathers” expect the various leagues and associations to fit FCUM’s “bill of rights” into the day to day running of league competitions?

Perhaps it would be a better to have a clause in their constitution which prevents the club from acting like it owns non-league football. By acting like the big fish, they are mirroring the behaviour of the “great satan” MUFC which they are meant to be railing against. The only question: is this football irony? Or just football reality?

Why does it still hurt?

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Barrow boys and girls on tour

Almost a week after Barrows oh so near brush with the FA cup 2nd round proper, I find myself pondering what could have been. I can still see that extra extra time goal sailing in, I can hear the Bournemouth end erupting and i still feel my heart sinking in disbelief.

I’m not gonna do a full match report as A) it’s been done and B) my memory is a little “clouded” after enjoying a few pints of a local beer called Ringwood.

To be honest, we can’t fault the lads, they played out of their skins and more than matched the full time league one side for large portions of the game. Jason Walkers goal will be one that sticks in my mind for a long time to come, gracefully sailing over the head of the keeper who was powerless to do anything about it. Lest we forget that Jason Walkers a local lad (but thats another debate).

Other memories that will stay with me is the immense support that the 216 traveling fans (pictured) offered the team, singing from kick off till well after the crushing final whistle was blown. It was an honour to be a part of it. As well as that, during the game I got a text from a mate back home which simply said “would you mind keeping the noise down, I’m trying to listen to the commentary!”.

As we set off for the long trip home, the full range of emotions passed through the mind of this corrospondant, including one you don’t get to experience too often as a Barrow fan - Pride. Proud of the team and proud of the 216 souls who made the tortuous journey to support their home town club.

Back at work on Thursday, I braced myself for the usual piss taking from the “Premier League” lot, only to be met with what I can only describe as sincere condolences. Even today, whilst trying to coax a colleague into doing something to assist me, someone shouted across the office “Give the guy a break, He’s had a rough week”.

Barrow is back on the football map, and this year, it’s for all the right reasons.